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CHAPTER
I MEET AN ADEPT
AONG pink and brown ridge of hills lies against the sky some miles west of the Nile at Luxor, forming a barrier between the Libyan Desert and the cultivated river valley.   Hidden among them is a dry sunburnt gorge where no vegetation grows or can grow; where the soil is either rocky stone or arid sand; and where the only living things are snakes and scorpions.   Long buried in this bare valley were the royal dead of vanished Thebes, for it is the famous Valley of the Tombs of the Kings.   "Were," I wrote, because many of those mummified bodies have now been extracted from their gloomy caverns and exposed in the stuffy galleries of great museums for all the world to view. And if others still elude discovery, it is not because time and trouble and money are wanting.
There was much that I desired to study in the tombs themselves; in the uncovered temples that lie within a few miles or so of the Valley; in minute fragments of Thebes that now peep above the soil; and along the edges of the Western Desert itself. To make all these frequent and short expeditions from Luxor, there is no animal equal to a good donkey as a means of transport, because it knows how to pick its surefooted way between boulders, over sharp stones and by the edee of precipices.
1 had engaged a "boy" as general servant, and one of his first orders was to find a contractor who could supply me with a good beast for these short excursions. Yousset was called a boy in deference to conventional traveller's terminology, although he would never see forty again and although he possessed a wife and three children. He frequently reminded me of the existence of his family; in fact every time I pulled out my purse to settle our accounts, And when I playfully tried to put a snake around his neck, he indignantly complained